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Long gone is the bling of her “ghetto fabulous” years (“the furs and the hats and the earrings and the wigs,” she says with a chuckle, swirling her hands around her head and shoulders), replaced by a subtly sexy style.

She is dressed in a black leather jacket (“Gucci; really old”) and burgundy Rag & Bone jodhpurs, with a natty pair of zebra-print slippers.

A friend passed the tape on to Uptown Records, and the CEO of the label himself came to the family’s cramped apartment in the projects.

He heard the teenage Blige sing and signed her on the spot.

“I didn’t feel constricted by what a label wanted, or have anyone giving me that chat in my ear.It felt like total freedom.” The American music industry has, Blige believes, become homogenous and narrow, and she admits that, for a while, before “The London Sessions” came about, she too was feeling stagnant, creatively. I’d said so much to people, I’d given so much, and I got kind of stuck.And then, on this album, I realised that I could still speak up.” (Though she often speaks in the looping language of the self-analytical, Blige has, perhaps surprisingly, never actually been in therapy.) Reviewers have been calling it her most innovative album ever. Blige’s dramatic biography is a classic rags-to-riches tale, beginning in welfare housing in Yonkers, a notoriously rough area north of New York City, with her mother, sister, five cousins and two aunts.“It was not the prettiest environment, and we always had to rise above embarrassment and be strong children,” she says.“We were clean and we had things, but you just feel all kinds of shame and guilt and you don’t even know why you’re feeling it.” Blige was sexually abused aged five by a family friend, but she buried the memory and didn’t speak about the incident to anyone until almost 10 years ago. But the gift that would give her a passage out was apparent from an early age.

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